by MR Anderson
Ivy covers the walls, shrubs and plants inhabit the corners, and you can smell the large circular garden plot filled with fresh mulch directly center stage. Botanical allegory is not lost on The Wheelhouse Theater Company’s production of Williams Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, much to their credit. Fresh from the success of their inaugural production of Julius Caesar, this promising sapling of a company has put down roots for a second theatrical go, this time in fair Verona.
Co‐Directors Jeff Wise and Matt Harrington have sown a space rich with potential, offering the freedom to both fly and fail. Thankfully, the independent and ensemble‐driven efforts of the cast coupled with the directors’ trust, causes this bud to blossom. The great discovery of the night was the relationships between this small ensemble. If the team set out to altershatter the preconceived ideas of a traditional Romeo and Juliet, then it should be proud. Intentions changed, sometimes making traditionally serious moments joyfully comic, and frequently casting classic lines in new light. This is made possible by the (double and triple‐casted) actors’ ability to relate to each individual character: with Rebecca S’manga Frank is a delightful Nurse, connecting to the Capulets with focus and ease; Brendan Titley thrills, juxtaposing a loving Friar Laurence with a powerful and raging Lord Capulet; Mairin Lee is a tragic and empathetic Lady Capulet, while her Mercutio is wry and knowing; David Kenner gives an unexpected weight to a no‐nonsense Paris, which contrasts wonderfully with his justifiably wrathful Tybalt.
Our star‐crossed lovers do more than shine brightly together, they put the focus on the network of relations between their houses (which, after all, is the play’s enduring catalyst). Cary Donaldson’s Romeo has a youthful dependency and his performance is skillfully colored by the influences of his friends, family, and lover. And, finally, Rachel Mewbron is a superb Juliet—her girlish charmcoupled with a refreshing independence that makes her plight all the more tragic.
The aforementioned success of scenic designer Brittany Vasta is complemented by Drew Florida’s inventive and varied lighting. Matt Bittner’s sound design was equally inventive, highlighting combat and comedic moments with everything from punk rock to operatic arias. Sadly, these tracks do little to enhance their moments.
The Wheelhouse Theater Company prides itself on its ensemble‐focused efforts, and in this they don’t disappoint. They’ve sown seeds in a fertile space, and the result is a new and exciting varietal.
Romeo and Juliet. Through July 9 in the Black Box at the Davenport Theatre (354 West 45th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). www.wheelhouse.theater
Photos: Matt Harrington